You have to hand it to Donald Trump, his ugly campaign has made previously attempts by candidates to use racial dog whistles look downright quaint. Trump doesn’t even bother to hide it – and he’s never been more popular.
To the shock of many liberals and the consternation of many moderate Republicans, Trump recently entered his fifth straight month as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s not even close. In the last polling, Trump’s national support from likely Republican voters stands at over 28 percent. His nearest competitor, Ben Carson, is 10 points lower and falling. There is simply no denying it any more: Trump is extremely popular, and essentially gaffe-proof. If Trump isn’t eventual nominee, then at the very least he reveals a strong undercurrent of who makes up the Republican “base.”
So who does make up the Republican base? According to their own mouths, xenophobic racists obsessed with keeping out foreigners and fighting for “white pride.”
The Atlantic sent reporter Molly Ball to speak with some of Trump’s most ardent supporters while the bloviating candidate was holding rallies in South Carolina. The things his supporters freely admitted to are disgusting, shocking, and – above all – very Trump-esque. They hate immigrants, fear Muslims, and think America’s “silent majority” (read: white people) are under assault.
Racism was a strong underlying theme. One man told Ball that he was tired of white people being persecuted.
“In today’s time, if I’m a white person who’s proud to be white, I’m a racist,” says 44-year-old Kevin Stubbs, a land surveyor who shared his Marlboro Reds with an African-American T-shirt vender on the way in. “Yet a minority can say that.”
His fiancee agreed.
“I do not feel safe,” says his fiancee, Loree Ballenberger, 42. “People are coming in across the border, and we have no idea where they are coming from.” She recently called her congressman to urge him to vote for a bill limiting Syrian refugees.
Racism towards Hispanics, African-Americans, and Muslims ooze from the group.
“I’m against the anchor babies, and I’m against the Muslims,” says Kathy Parker, a tiny former elementary-school teacher with gold hoop earrings. “We can’t have churches in their countries—why should they have mosques in ours? He is the only one with the guts to speak out and say it.”
“We’re just tired of paying for people who don’t deserve to be here,” says Nina Lewis, a blue-eyed 33-year-old former sheriff’s deputy who is going back to school to be a veterinary technician. She has brought a giant handmade sign that says “TRUMP: FOR THE VOICE OF THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS CITIZENS.” “He stands up for the blue-collar people everywhere. He speaks for us,” she says. There is no one else she would vote for.
Trump’s latest whopper of a lie – for those at home keeping score, that would be the one about “thousand upon thousands” of Muslims cheering 9/11 from New Jersey – hasn’t hurt him with his supporters, either. In fact, according to interviews conducted by CNN, his followers seemed to believe he was telling the truth – despite his claims being utterly debunked by every major news organization in the country.
For many Trump fans, his dismal fact-checking record, reflects Trump’s ability to “tell it like it is,” not a symptom of being a pathological liar. The rest of the media are said to be liberals attempting to silence Trump.
Jay Alter, a 49-year-old computer programmer in a tweed blazer, is here with his 15-year-old son. “Just because he thinks illegal immigrants and terrorists should be deported doesn’t make him a racist,” he says. “He’s calling it as it is. You’ll never see CNN do that.”
Which may explain why several iterations of a Trump-only news network have popped up on social media, in order to allow Trump followers to hear unfiltered Trump propaganda without the pesky nagging of “facts” or “reality” to get in the way.
And while it’s easy to dismiss this ugly populism, the effects of Trump’s hold of America’s right-wing party means his brand of bigotry is spreading beyond just his own followers. In almost every news cycle for the last five months, the debate was either started or fueled by Trump. It’s hard for any other Republican candidates to stand out when they spend all of their time commenting on what Trump has previously said. The larger debates about foreign policy and immigration have been thrown to the wayside because Trump wants to build a billion dollar, impossible wall along the southern border and thinks “bombing the shit out of ISIS” and stealing their oil is a legitimate Middle Eastern platform. Logic and reason need not apply.
His supporters have taken his racism and run with it, too. At an event in Alabama, Trump watched on as his nearly all-white crowd assaulted a Black Lives Matter supporter while chanting – unironically – “All Lives Matter.” He would later go on to say that the protester deserved what he got. Needless to say, his supporters feel no guilt over this ugly form of mob violence.
Racist comments and physical violence has done nothing to stop Trump’s momentum. In fact, his poll numbers have only grown in recent weeks. His supporters have almost entirely cut themselves off from the outside world. They live in a soundproof Trump-bubble where he can “tell it like it is” and confirm all of their favored prejudices. And the scariest part is it seems more and more of the Republican Party are joining in. They’ve dipped their toes in the bubbling mix of racism, xenophobia, and violent rhetoric, and concluded that the water is quite nice.
Feature image via CNN screengrab